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by inoljt

How 2012 Helps Prospects for Reforming the Electoral College

4:07 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The electoral college is one of the lingering undemocratic parts of American politics. Unlike almost every other country in the world, America elects its presidents not via the popular vote but rather via a strange system of “electoral votes” distributed by states. The good news is that this system generally reflects the popular will. The bad news is that it occasionally fails, as last happened in 2000.

Since then there has been a push to reform the electoral college so that all states cast their electoral votes for the winners of the popular vote. Currently half the states needed to implement the reform have signed on.

The reform is mostly pushed by Democrats. This is because in 2000 the popular vote winner but electoral college loser was the Democratic candidate. As long electoral college reform was only pushed by Democrats, it was likely to fail. It is almost impossible to get enough states to sign on with complete Republican opposition.

In 2012, however, something quite interesting happened. The electoral college helped Obama quite a bit. For the final months of the campaign Obama was often behind in the national polls but still leading in the state Ohio. It was seen as a very conceivable possibility that Obama would lose the popular vote but win the electoral college and remain president because of Ohio. Even after the first presidential debate, Romney led in the popular vote but never in the electoral college.

It should be noted that these polls were wrong; they underestimated Obama nationally and put Ohio as more Democratic than a lot of states (Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia) which ended up more favorable to Obama. But the perception, based on these flawed polls, was what mattered.

So a lot of hard-core Republicans got to see the electoral college really hurting them during the most important campaign of all.

Moreover, the electoral college actually has leaned Democratic for three elections in a row. In 2004 John Kerry was 118,601 votes away in Ohio from becoming president while losing the popular vote. In 2008 John McCain would have had to win the popular vote by 1.7% to win Colorado and become president. In 2012 the votes are still being counted, but it’s very certain that Obama could have lost the popular vote and still remained president.

This is good news for electoral college reform. Hopefully Republicans will not forget how polls showed them leading the popular vote but still behind in the electoral college during October 2012. Republicans now are aware that the electoral college hurts them. It would be in their self-interest to shift to a popular vote.

There are several blue or purple states in which the state Republican Party is fairly strong and has prevented electoral college reform. The hope is that in a few of these states some Republicans will now support a popular vote. It is also possible that Republicans by themselves will enact popular vote bills on their own initiative. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, for instance, has publicly made supportive statements on a popular vote. Of course this is pure self-interest, since she (like many Republicans) recognizes that the electoral college now hurts Republicans.

But a popularly elected president looks closer than ever. As long as it was only a Democratic initiative, it didn’t look like the popular vote would be enacted. Now, hopefully, some Republicans will also see that the popular vote is both something that helps a Republican presidential candidate and (more importantly for American but probably not Republicans) the right thing to do.

by inoljt

A Modest Suggestion on Improving High School Education

9:46 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

College education is different in many ways from K-12 education. Unlike high school or elementary teachers, for instance, professors actually know what they are talking about. Another difference: America’s colleges are the best in the world, while its high schools are quite mediocre.

There are many reasons why this is so. One reason is that the average college student pays several thousand dollars for his or her education, funding the average public high school can only dream of. Another one is that American society respects college professors, but not high school teachers so much.

Nevertheless, there is at least one thing colleges undeniably do better than high schools – and which high schools can readily adopt. This is the professor evaluation. At the end of every class, college professors hand out anonymous evaluations for students to fill out. College professors then get an unbiased view of what students think of them, and what their weaknesses are.

For some strange reason, high schools have never implemented this procedure. Most probably nobody has thought of it before.

They should. Nowadays education reformers are quite passionate about improving teacher performance. What better way to do so than by asking the students themselves?

For this reason, however, teacher unions may be resistant to the idea; they may argue that high school students are not mature enough to effectively evaluate a teacher. There is also a simple way to address this opposition: keep teacher evaluations for teacher’s eyes only. This does little to dilute the effectiveness of this reform, because teacher evaluations have their greatest effect on the teachers themselves. It also gets rid of the fear that bad evaluations may lead to teachers being fired.

Teachers truly do care about their job, and they often strive to improve themselves. Yet often they are groping in the dark. A teacher may hear rumors that he or she is boring or too political, but students are naturally reluctant to say this to his or her face. Anonymous student evaluations enable teachers to actually find out what they’re doing right and wrong. Indeed, they probably are the most effective way of doing this.

Teacher evaluations are simple, extremely effective, and cost practically no money. There’s no magic cure to the ailments that assail America’s high schools, but instituting teacher evaluations may come the closest that there is to one.

–Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

by inoljt

Vote Yes on Proposition 25: Majority Vote to Pass a Budget

1:41 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the fifth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 25, which requires a majority vote in the legislature to pass a budget.

Proposition 26 will be the subject of the next post in this series.

The Structural Problems in California’s Budget Process…

Proposition 25 is the most important proposition being proposed this year. While Proposition 25 may not exactly ignite passion in the hearts of voters, it is far more important for California’s future than the much-debated Propositions 19 and 23.

To understand why this is so, one needs to take a look at the structure of California’s budget.

California’s budget is governed by a set of stringent regulations. Constitutionally, passage requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Proposition 13 mandates that tax increases also require a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

In both requirements, California is very much an exception. The general rule is that tax increases and budgets need only a majority vote. Several states, mostly in the West and South, require a supermajority for a tax increase. Only Arkansas and Rhode Island (an odd couple) mandate supermajority votes for budgets to pass.

No other state in the union, however, requires that both budgets and tax increases be passed with a supermajority:

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

A two-thirds majority for both tax increases and budget passage necessitates compromise between the two parties. Unfortunately, the ideological difference between Democrats and Republican is unusually wide in California. The Democratic Party in Mississippi is probably more conservative than many moderate Republicans on the national level, while the Republican Party in New York is probably more liberal than many moderate Democrats on the national level. In the Democratic stronghold of California, however, the Republican Party’s positions lie quite far to the right on the national spectrum.

Combined, these factors make passing a budget in California one of the hardest endeavors in American politics. Since 1980 – shortly after the two-thirds requirement for tax increases was instituted – California has passed an on-time budget a grand total of five times. Every budget is subject to torturous negotiations as state officials desperately attempt to reach the two-thirds supermajority requirement (imagine the chaos that would take place if the House of Representatives required a two-thirds vote to pass a budget!)

This has quite negative implications for the well-being of California. Constant budget fights have done bad damage to California’s image, hurting private investment and creating great uncertainty. Budget impasses hurt public sector workers and public services provided by the government.

And How Proposition 25 Solves One of Them

Proposition 25 ends the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. This will make passing budgets substantially easier, and it constitutes one part of a plethora of necessary reforms in fixing California’s flawed budget system.

There are some that oppose Proposition 25, arguing that it constitutes a union-backed power grab for California’s Democratic Party – and that it therefore ought to be opposed.

It is true that Proposition 25 is funded by unions, and that it will benefit the Democratic Party in California (which has a majority in the legislature). But just because a proposition helps one party or another doesn’t mean that it deserves opposition. Getting more people to vote would probably help the Democratic Party, but nobody argues that higher voter turn-out is a bad thing because of that.

Moreover, there is an easy way for Republicans to stop Proposition 25 from benefiting Democrats: they can win elections, and take over the legislature. This is what happens in 47 other states and the federal government. It works much better than what happens in California.

Passing Proposition 25 will not end budget crises; even if passed, there will still be a number of problems with California’s budget. Tax increases will still require supermajority votes, for instance. California’s budget still relies too much on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions, as a result of Proposition 13. Solving that problem necessitates a larger rainy day fund. Then there is reforming the broken proposition system itself.

But despite all this, Proposition 25 is a fundamental reform to California’s broken budget process. It constitutes a change that is vitally important for California’s future well-being – even if, horror of horrors, it happens to help the Democratic Party.

That is why I strongly, strongly recommend a “yes” vote on Proposition 25.

–Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/